University of Missouri

Home | Special Programs | Troubling Violence Performance Project

Troubling Violence Performance Project

Rollie, Lawless and Carver
Emily Rollie, Associate Director, Dr. Elaine Lawless, Co-Founder, and Dr. Heather Carver, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Troubling Violence Performance Troupe

Troubling Violence
Troubling Violence

Undergraduate student performing
Undergraduate student Courtney
performing one of the narratives

Audience and perfomers' discussionAudience and performers' discussion
photo courtesy of the Columbia Missourian

On Christmas Eve we were supposed to drive five hours to my parents’ house, but my fiancé came home drunk. After we finally got on the road, he pulled the car over in the middle of nowhere and tried to force me out because "he was sick of me." After I begged and pleaded, he let me stay. For me, the emotional abuse was worse than the physical.

This is just one of the stories told by the Troubling Violence Performance Project. The group, consisting of University of Missouri faculty and students, has found a way to make domestic violence real, down-to-earth and hard to ignore.

Heather Carver met Elaine Lawless in 2001 when Lawless had already published her ethnography of a shelter for battered women. They began talking about their shared interest in studying narrative, ethnography, and performance. This shared interest developed into a troupe that performs the narratives in Lawless' book, Women Escaping Violence: Empowerment through Narrative (2001 University of Missouri Press), winner of the Curators' Prize for Publishing Excellence in 2001. As the artistic director, Carver adapted the narratives and invited troupe members to share their own stories or stories given to them by others who had experienced abuse.

Following the first performance audience members approached Carver and Lawless to give their stories, and after every performance since, several of those who have watched have felt the need to give the troupe their stories. Thus, the Troubling Violence Performance Project has become no longer simply about the narratives in the book but the stories of people in the community and beyond. In fact, at this point most of the stories the troupe performs are from the community, given by interested individuals who want to share their stories in order to help others escape and survive.

"Our goal is to open up dialogue and get people talking about a topic that has always been taboo," Lawless, project co-founder, said. "Sometimes after we perform, women say they want to help and tell me their stories. I think it makes them feel better to know that their experiences can help prevent violence for others."

"All of our volunteers are taking part in this project for activist reasons," Carver said. "They're doing this because they feel strongly about helping women escape abusive and violent relationships."

The troupe performs all across campus and plans to expand its message to women's clinics, faith-based communities, and other interested groups throughout the community. Troubling Violence hopes to take its performances to other parts of the state and across the nation.

"It’s a wonderful tool," Kylene Diller, a graduate student in Social Work at MU said about Troubling Violence. "It smacks people in the face and makes the violence more real for people."

Whit Loy, recent Theatre graduate, said of the project, "We tell the stories that never get told because they are too hard to tell. But they must be told. Knowing that you are not alone can make all the difference in the world. Sharing these stories is an incredible experience."

Theatre major Heidi Arni said, "The Troubling Violence Performance Project has given me the opportunity to take my voice out of the theatre and use it to open up discussion about an issue that is faced by so many, but understood by so few."

For more information, contact Heather Carver (phone: 573-882-9263; email: or Elaine Lawless (phone: 573-882-6885; email:

To inquire about scheduling the troupe for a performance, please contact Sarah Senff:

Some content originally written by MU News Bureau staff writers.